“You all had better watch your daughters…
this Saturday I’m letting my stallions loose.”
to his cronies in Double
Springs about 1900
THE SEARCH FOR SYLVESTER
In 1961, on the advice of my brother, Samuel Lee Densmore Jr., I asked some questions of my uncle, William Rufus Densmore, (often referred to as W. R. or Rufe) who at that time was in his eighty-first year and living in Irving, Texas. For years what little I knew of the Densmore family came from this conversation. I regret not having asked more that would have cleared up many questions remaining today. Rufe died in 1964 and it was not until the 1980’s that I again begin to retrace the Densmore family.
Rufe, my dad (Samuel Lee Densmore Sr.), their brother George, and others often spoke of their grandfather, Sylvester Densmore, who, according to legend, was a big boned, full-blooded Irishman who could whip three men at one time. He was said to have been a loud talking man and according to others could be heard a half mile away. We have now found he lived most of his life (1828-1909) in Northern Alabama and owned some beautiful farmland. He likely owned some land near the Tennessee River close to the rapids called the Muscle Shoals and a farm of some 200 acres in the Appalachian hill country some fifty miles to the south. He was not a wealthy man and land in those days was not expensive. He would let out a long yell1 as he brought his oxen in from the field, so his kids would know he was home. In 1984 I had the remarkable opportunity to talk to 84 year old Nathan Pearson of Navoo, Alabama who remembers Sylvester. He confirmed the boisterous nature attributed to Sylvester adding that the old man told his cronies “you had better watch your daughters because I’m letting my stallions loose” when his sons came in to town.
Rufus Densmore said Sylvester would refuse a bed when visiting and sleep on the floor with his saddle for a pillow as he had done so often during the Civil War. He also said the women did not look forward to his visits because his language was rough. It has been said Sylvester was born in Ireland and ran away as a young man; however, records do not support this but indicate he was born in either South Carolina or Georgia.
1 Was this the famous Rebel yell? According to Southern historian, James Street, it may have been “Creeeee-ooooo! Yeeee-oooow” and was called “The Holler”. He says it was a hunter’s cry and probably took many forms. Street, James, The Civil War, Dial, 1953.
In 1984 I was fortunate to meet Mamie and Harry Atkinson who have done much thorough and meticulous research into the Densmores of the South and must stand as the most knowledgeable on the subject. They produced a presentation for the family reunion in Alabama in May of 1984 suitable for the Strategic Air Command where Harry once briefed members of Congress. I have drawn a great deal from their records as well as the census records from 1830, 1850, and 1880. Patsy Densmore Little, the granddaughter of Cleveland Densmore, and Kenneth and Peggy Densmore have contributed information on the first Densmores of our line to come to America.
The Atkinsons trace the southern Densmores to Ireland through Adam Densmore who was born prior to 1775 (probably around 1740) and left for America from Donegal, Templemore Parish, Ireland later migrating to North Carolina settling in Wilkes County. Today, Ulster (or Northern Ireland), does not include the counties of Donegal and Cavan which are now a part of Erie (Ireland proper) but at the time of Adam’s departure it did include the counties. If we look up Donegal on a current map we find it in Erie. In the 1700’s when Adam left it was in Ulster, which was Northern Ireland giving speculation that he was of Scottish heritage and not Irish. Adam married a woman whose maiden name was Jackson; this marriage must have been in Antrium County, Northern Ireland. We do not know when Adam, or his ancestors, came to Ireland but we do know something of the history of that time.
In the first decade of the seventeenth century the British subdued a rather violent Irish Catholic rebellion. In retaliation to the Irish, all the land in the six Northern counties of Ireland were seized by the government for reallocation to the faithful and loyal. These six counties were: Donegal (Tyrconnell), Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan, Armagh, and Coleraine (Derry). Much of this land went to Scottish and English undertakers (entrepreneurs) who undertook to settle the land with Protestant Scots or English tenants. We know there were Densmores in Northern Ireland early in this century who came from Scotland.
Although family legend often purports an Irish background I believed our family was not Irish but Scottish as the many other “Scotch-Irish” in America. Conflicts, especially religious, existed between the Protestant Scots and the Catholic Irish from the sixteenth century. Densmore, Dinsmore, Dunsmoor, and similar spellings are noted as Scottish names. While we know little of their religion I have not heard of any Catholic Densmore from our history. In the latter part of the last century and into the twentieth century, it was fashionable in some sectors to be Irish which was synonymous with tough and proud. This would fit the image of Sylvester. The term “Scotch-Irish” was applied to the Scots who migrated to Northern Ireland and then to America, but they were not Irish at all because little intermarriage took place between these long standing enemies. Often the first part “Scotch” was dropped by those who no longer remembered the conflicts and they called themselves “Irish” in error.
More recent information received from Patsy Densmore Little indicates Adam was in Antrim County, Northern Ireland before living in Donegal giving more strength to the Scottish ancestry. Information from Mrs Grace Maggart, nee Dinsmoor, indicate there was a Laird Robert Dinsmore in Scotland in the early 1600’s who had descendants in Antrim County, Northern Ireland, many of which migrated to the United States and Canada. There was an Adam Densmore in Northern Ireland born in 1675.
Tren Densmore, the daughter-in-law of Cleveland Densmore says she has heard people say the Densmores were run out of Ireland for stealing horses. For some time, I thought this to be nothing more than a joke or harassment by a friend or neighbor as every family supposedly has a horse thief or something similar in their background. Possibly there is some credibility to the story. According to Michael de L. Landon in “Erin and Britannia” there was a Lord Donegall who in spite of charging the highest rents in Ulster angered his tenants by adding a high renewal fee. Donegall had discovered many wealthy Belfast merchants who wanted country places and would pay well to rent them. When a tenant could not raise the fee, he was evicted. When these Presbyterian tenant farmers, who were already angered by high tithe collections to the church of England, could not pay the fee, they were evicted. In revenge they then raided the cattle and property of those who took over the farms. Landon says this rebellion died out by 1773 as most of those involved migrated to America, where they were soon to participate in the American Revolution. We think this is near the time Adam came to America.
More information on the migrations from Ulster indicate the Scots were angered by the tithe to the Church of England and were forbidden to hold public office as dissenters. Land was becoming more difficult to own as population increased. If a tenant was evicted, it was difficult to find work as there were few industrial jobs available due to discriminatory legislation and the outflow of capital to Britain. The solution to the problem, many thousands of Ulstermen finally concluded, was to emigrate. Descended from forefathers who a century before had left the barren lowlands of Scotland to cross the Irish Sea, it was natural for those who found Ireland’s bounty denied them to cross the Atlantic Ocean in search of fresh opportunities in the American colonies. Dean Swift noted in his “Modest Proposal” that, while the “papists” tended to “stay at home”, the “good Protestants…have chosen rather to leave the country than stay…and pay tithes against their conscience to an episcopal curate”. Landon thinks the “poor papist had no choice since they were kept in such poverty by the British power structure they could not scrape together the price of a transatlantic ticket”.
The Ulster Scotch-Irish had not only an ancestral example of emigrating but also a little money left from the proceeds of linen weaving or the sale of occupancy rights to pay their passage. If not, they could, and frequently did, ship out as indentured servants bound to labor for the masters who had prepaid their fares as semi-slaves for seven years before they regained their freedom and could work for themselves. The first few emigrants left for America around the year 1717. Ten years later over thirty-one thousand had left from Ulster alone. By the 1750’s as many as twelve thousand per year were going. In America these immigrants came to be called the Scotch-Irish. They arrived in America with a antipathy towards Britain and all established churches which produced an attitude ready for revolution when it arrived.
At least ten United States presidents have been recognized from Scotch-Irish stock traced back to Ulster: Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Chester A Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and Woodrow Wilson. Others of Scotch Irish ancestry include: Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and Stonewall Jackson.2 In spite of the many references to our Irish heritage in family stories it remains my contention that we are Scotch-Irish and probably have no Irish blood at all. For whatever it is worth, there is probably little difference in blood lines between the two, possibly the Irish possess a few more Celtic genes with the Scots having a few more Germanic.
Adam had a son, James, who was born in 1760 in Antrim County, Northern Ireland. We know from records that James was in America in time to serve in the American Revolution, so one would believe the whole family would have migrated together as James enlisted at 18 in 1778. He enlisted April 1, 1778 in what was then Sullivan County, North Carolina but is now Tennessee. He fought under a Captain Maxfield, Captain Warren, and a Colonel Issac Shelby. James married Jane McDonald (1770-1857) on January 24, 1794; he lived to seventy-seven years and died in 1837 in Morgan County, Alabama. They had eleven children. One son born April 20, 1815 was named, James Jackson Densmore, giving more credibility to his mother’s maiden name being Jackson. However, Andrew Jackson had just won the Battle of New Orleans in January of that year and the possibility remains he was named after the General.
2 Landon, Michael de L., “ERIN AND BRITANNIA’ Nelson Hall, Chicago, 1981
We believe our line descends through another of Adam’s sons, David, born between 1784 and 1790 likely in Buncombe County, North Carolina, where Adam had moved from Wilkes County. David married Sarah Hayes and had sons, William (1803-1861) and Samuel P. (1809-1873). It is William’s line that will be traced here. Mamie Atkinson says family tradition tells us Sarah died when Samuel was three weeks old and a neighbor woman, who was nursing a baby of her own, took him and kept him until his father remarried. Samuel was three and William was nine at this time. Samuel did not get along with his step-mother and ran away at an early age. We have no information of William and his relationship with his family.
Samuel became a Methodist minister and a farmer. He died in White County, Georgia in 1873 and is buried at Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church just a few miles above Cleveland, Georgia. Mamie Atkinson descends from this line and Samuel is her great-grandfather. There is evidence that David had at least one more child, a son named Abner.
William also migrated to Georgia owning a farm just a few miles north of Atlanta. The children of Sylvester, William Thomas and others including the Texas Densmores trace their line to Sylvester who we believe to be the son of William.
It is believed Adam and son James came down the Tennessee to Madison County, Alabama in 1810. It was here that Adam died in 1815. Most likely he owned land on what is now called the “Arsenal” at the Marshal Space Center where his grave is located. I understand it is difficult to gain entrance to the grave site. A great number of descendants of Adam and James still live in that area. At this time, I have no more information of David.
There is overwhelming evidence but no actual proof that Sylvester was the first son of William Densmore (1803 – 1861) of Gwinnette County, Georgia. No record has been found to list Sylvester to William, but a male child is listed to have been born to William between 1825 – 1830. Sylvester named his first son William (my grandfather, William Thomas Densmore 1853 – 1912) and his first daughter Cynthia (born 1849). These are the same names of Sylvester’s mother and father if Sylvester is in fact the son of William (1803 – 1861). Sylvester named a daughter Malinda; William and Cynthia had a daughter named Melinda. A child of William and Cynthia married a Greenbury Grogan, later Sylvester named a son Greenbury. This presents strong evidence Sylvester is the male child listed in the 1830 and 1840 census belonging to William and Cynthia.
Sylvester’s birthdates vary according to census, but it was not uncommon for whoever came to the door to answer questions and this sometimes-involved guesswork. Often the younger the person is on the census list, the more likely the age is to be correct. It might be easy to miss a sixty-year-old person’s age by five years while not as likely to do so with a ten-year-old. The 1850 census lists Sylvester as born in 1828; whoever filled out his death certificate in 1909 listed him as nearly ninety. If the 1850 census was correct he was only 81. Until 1850 the census only listed the name for the male head of the house.
On Thursday, September 9, 1847, Sylvester married Sarah Caroline Reavis, who is believed to have been part Indian. Stories vary from a great deal of Indian blood (even an Indian Princess) to very little. Evidently, however, there was enough Indian blood for her grandchildren to apply for Indian land in Oklahoma yet to be refused because they had too little to qualify, then enough for grandson Rufus to receive a letter a few years later mentioning some possibilities. Mamie Atkinson warns me of jumping to conclusions on the possibility of Indian blood in the family; she says in her experience she seldom finds a family that does not claim Indian blood but there is seldom any substance to the story. Mamie may do some research into the Reavis family and I will be interested to know the results. If there is any Indian blood in our family, it would be through the Reavis line.
Sylvester is listed as living in 1850 in Cherokee County, Georgia with his wife, Sarah Caroline Reavis Densmore, age 20, and daughter, Cynthia, who was one year of age. His property was worth $200. Cherokee County was carved from the old Cherokee Nation in 1831 about the time President Jackson would not enforce the treaty the Supreme Court upheld in favor of the Indians. His father, who we believe to be William, lived nearby giving speculation that Sylvester’s land may have come from William’s farm a few years earlier. Although the records seem to indicate William moved from Gwinnette county, to Fulton county, and then to Cherokee county somewhat indiscriminately, Mamie Atkinson believes William stayed on one place most of his life and it was the county lines that changed.
We have no letters, records, or anything to tell us of their life at this time. We do know farming was good in the South in those years and it is likely that William acquired his farm from Cherokee land. If this was the case his son married a woman who we think had at least some Indian blood. What were the feelings they held toward the Indians in those years? Feelings toward the Indian was strong and varied; for example, while Andrew Jackson hated Indians, his friend Sam Houston lived with them and had a part Indian wife for some years in Oklahoma. Sylvester must have been 18 when the Mexican War broke out but most likely was not involved as he married before its close. The middle of the century found the slavery question splitting the nation and by far the greatest issue of the time. While Cherokee County probably grew a lot cotton, it was in the hills of north Georgia and not considered slave country. Census records show Negroes with Densmore surnames indicating they may have been held as slaves by Densmores, however, none seem to be listed belonging to William, Sylvester, or any of their descendants. The small farmer did not commonly support the wealthy slave-holder but the more the North talked of emancipation the more he was against it. Whatever Sylvester may have thought in those intense and troubled years before the Civil War, we know he supported the Confederacy when as a newcomer to Winston County, Alabama, that county fought to support the Union.
Rufus Densmore told me Sylvester moved from Georgia to Alabama when son William Thomas was nine. If William Thomas was born in 1855 this would have been 1864. One might wonder if this was in fear of Sherman’s march or in the aftermath of it. Old-timers use to say a crow had to pack rations to fly over Georgia at that time. Rufus was also reported to say his grandfather sold the Georgia land for Confederate money which was soon worthless. However, Mamie Atkinson found Sylvester in Winston County, Alabama in the 1860 census. William Thomas is sometime listed as born in 1851, 1852, 1853, so if he was nine at the time of the move, it could have been as early as 1860. The estate of Andrew Kaizar shows Sylvester Densmore to have owed him $15 in January of 1862 in Winston County, Alabama to further verify an earlier move. Mamie estimates the move to have been 1857 from information on others she knows to have arrived in Alabama at that time.
If we look at other records, there may well be a motive for the 1857 move. The 1850 census shows Sylvester living adjacent to William (more evidence that they were father and son). William’s wife, Cynthia, died in 1856 and he started another family shortly afterward with a young woman, Sarah, who was 27 years his junior. With his mother gone and his father married to a young woman3 with the promise of a new family (a son Samuel N. was born in 1858), Sylvester may have decided it was time to go. William and young Sarah had two more children, Missouri Elizabeth (1859 – 1947), and Henry Dawson (1861 – 1933), before William died in 1861. Sarah died in 1878 and they are buried side by side northeast of Atlanta near the Cherokee County line at Boiling Springs Church on the Birmingham road near Crabapple, Georgia.
The country experienced a financial panic of some consequence in 1857 causing land prices to collapse4. I believe Sylvester may have kept his Georgia property yet still moved to Alabama in 1857, then sold the Georgia farm after his father died in 1861 for Confederate money during the Civil War. I also believe William Thomas was born in February of 1852 or 1853 (see 1860 census) in spite of the date on his tombstone and was four rather than nine when they migrated and either he, Uncle Rufus, or myself were in error regarding his age as nine.
3 The new step-mother was three years younger than Sylvester’s wife and had the same name.
4 Blum, John, Schlesinger, Arthur M., The National Experience, Harcourt, 1963, p. 313.
William’s death in Georgia in 1861 left thirty-one-year-old Sarah with her own three children, all under three, plus five or six of William’s from his first wife. William and Cynthia’s family follows:
Sylvester 1828 – 1909
David L. 1832 –
Polly Ann 1835 –
Amanda Penina 1836 –
Melinda Abigail 1839 – 1933
William W. 1838 – 1862
Malachi Polk 1844?- 1919
James F. 1843?
Francis Monroe 1847 – 1891
John P. 1850 –
William and Sarah’s family:
Samuel Nathan 1858 – 1941
Missouri Eliz 1859 – 1947
Henry Dawson 1861 – 1933
Probably the first four children were married by the time of William’s death in 1861. Sylvester named a son Greenbury in 1858 and we know Amanda Penina married Greenbury Grogan, so it is likely that she was married to Greenbury by 1858. Melinda would have been 21 by 1861 and may have been married but it is not as likely that the others were married. Sarah must have had her hands full during the Civil War. It is possible son William W., who died in 1862, was killed in the war. In 1864 Sherman’s march cut a wide path and came through the area where they lived. By the end of the war the younger boys were old enough to be of real help. We don’t know when they married but Malachi may have married young as he had four wives. (He and David married Grogans as did Amanda.) By the time of Sarah’s death, the youngest child, Henry, was seventeen.
We know many moved from the exhausted land to get a fresh start on the rich virgin soil westward. They were further stimulated by letters from friends and relatives who had ventured into the new lands. Timothy Flint, a New England teacher, who lived in the southwest during the 1820’s wrote:
“Very few, except the Germans, emigrate simply to find better and cheaper lands. Rather they sought a mythical region where they would enjoy new and more beautiful woods and streams, a milder climate, wild game, and the boundless license of a new region. They were led on by the restless hope of discovering in a new country a combination of delightful things, something we crave and have not.”
Sylvester most likely came to Alabama by wagon train as most migrations in those days were by groups. I have a letter that suggests he came from Trenton or Carrollton Georgia, but it is most likely he came directly from Cherokee County, Georgia to Winston County, Alabama. Harry Atkinson said you can hardly get to Trenton, Georgia from Georgia because of the mountains and it would not be a likely route. Trenton is in the northeast corner of Georgia, just below Lookout Mountain.
The following excerpt from “The Growth of Southern Civilization” describes a wagon train including the Lide family of South Carolina who migrated to the Black Belt of Alabama.
“Their party formed a caravan of wagons pulled by oxen, carrying food, agricultural tools, and some of the Negroes. Traveling at a rate of fifteen miles a day, after five weeks they reached their destination of Carlowville, Alabama, where they purchased a plantation of 490 acres at $4 an acre. They met with many dangers and hardships on the way-breakdown of wagons, leaky tents to sleep in, terrible roads, dangerous fords, and dread of the Indians as they passed through their territory. There were pleasures also, delight at the scenery, sociable calls from other families who were traveling to the Southwest along the same road, and an occasional treat of hearing preaching in the little villages along the route. Near Camden the Lides heard “a very good sermon” from a colored Methodist minister, whom they dignified by calling “Mister”, an unusual occurrence in the South. Upon arrival at their homestead, the men went furiously to work to clear the land and prepare for planting the crops. The senior Lide, his daughter wrote, was “the most busy man you ever saw,” all time among his Negroes in the field; “he seems to have forgotten he is old.” (sic)
The impulse to move to greener pastures was not easily quenched among the cotton planters of the Southwest. The Lides, for example, although they were comfortably situated and raised good crops, were not satisfied. Ten years after they had settled in Alabama, Maria wrote to a brother at her childhood home, lamenting the restless spirit of “Pa”:
His having such a good crop seems to make him more anxious to move. I don’t know why it is but none of them are satisfied here. I have no idea that we will stop short of Red River; brother has seen that place and was so perfectly delighted with it that he can find no place to equal it. I have been trying my best to get brother into the notion of going to California, because I think he would be obliged to stop then for he could go no farther.”
The migration described above was to the black soil cotton belt of Alabama while Sylvester moved to the red clay hill country of north central Alabama. During the remaining fifty or so years of his life Sylvester moved from the hilly Appalachian Winston county area back and forth to the Tennessee River valley near the Muscle Shoals and the family seems to promote some characteristics of both mountain people and southern farmers.
Whenever it was that Sylvester located in Alabama we know he fought on horseback in the Civil War in Company F of the 56 Alabama Mounted Infantry. He also took part in the Winston County War in which Winston County seceded from Alabama rather than leave the Union. Winston County is hill country, the southwestern tail of the Appalachians, and was not slave country. Harry Atkinson said there probably was not one slave in Winston County in 1860. The little county’s ambitious and spirited rebellion was doomed to failure and newcomer, Sylvester, had a part in putting it down. Nathan Pearson remembers Sylvester with the honorable Southern veterans revered so highly in those states. Records show Francis Marion Reavis in the Confederate Army in the Winston County area. Could this be a brother or some relation to Sarah Caroline Reavis? It seems most likely since Sylvester’s second son was named Francis Marion and this promotes more speculation on a move by more than one family from Georgia to Alabama.
At the outbreak of hostilities Alabama State troops seized Federal forts on Mobile bay and kept the harbor open but the union blockade caused a great shortage of salt, which was needed to preserve meats, and many other imports. Alabama suffered like most of the South from shortages of materials. War came quickly to the state. Albert Sidney Johnson came through the Muscle Shoals on his way to the bloody battle of Shiloh in which the South sustained 10,000 casualties. By the end of 1862, Huntsville, Decatur, and Tuscumbia were in Federal hands.
Records indicate daughters Gincy, born 1862, and Caroline, born 1864, to Sylvester and Sarah Caroline which indicates Sylvester was close to home at times during the conflict. Often troops went to Virginia and were away for the whole duration of the war. The birth of the two daughters must tell us Sylvester may have left Alabama but not for long periods of time.
People remember Civil War situations just as later generations remember such things like where they were when the armistice was declared in 1918 or where they were when they heard of Kennedy’s assassination. It is remembered that William Warren became a Major in the Confederate army, later married young Malinda Densmore, then opened a general store in Colbert County, Alabama.
In Tennessee John Washington Hall was exempt from the conflict because he was a shoemaker and the South was in dire need of shoes. Following the war, he moved into Alabama, eventually into the Muscle Shoals area, where his daughter, Lucy, married Sylvester’s oldest son, William Thomas.
In Texas, Daniel Caster, of Peoria, Illinois just arrived in Texas when the war broke out. Caster, like many at that time, did not know which side to support. He did not want to fight against the North where his friends and relatives lived and he could hardly fight the South where he just set up his new home.
I wonder if he was one of the supporters of old Sam Houston, way up in years now but running for Governor again on the issue that secession was a pretty stupid thing to do. Houston won the election, but Texas seceded in spite of his resistance and Dan Caster decided not to fight for either side. Possibly this was the most courageous decision one could make as it was not acceptable with his neighbors. It also caused him to kill a man in self-defense by the Dallas courthouse in 1865 during an argument about the war. This incident occurred at the Dallas courthouse by a campfire one night in 1865. A song was sung and a man who had been drinking taunted Caster indicating the song described Casters’ war stance. Gaining no argument by this tactic, the man then came at Caster with a knife which was deflected and used on the man himself. Caster was left-handed, and witnesses said he owed his life to that fact because of the angle of the thrust. His granddaughter Netta Bell married Sylvester’s grandson Samuel Lee Densmore in 1914.
Thanks to some recent research into Confederate records by Ken and Peggy Densmore we know at least three of Sylvester’s brothers served in the Civil War. During the first summer of the war Sylvester’s father, William, died leaving his young wife Sarah a widow at thirty-one with an infant son, two other young children and four boys in or near their teens. By the fall of 1861 the South already was breaking around her western boundaries while the east stood somewhat firm. This was the situation on October 6, 1861 when Malachi, 17, and James F.,18, joined the Confederate army to be placed in Company B of the 38 Georgia infantry. They were to be joined by William W. the following May. William W. was 24 at that time.
We have no information on an enlistment of David L. who would have been thirty in that dismal year of 1862. David L. was likely married at that time (his first wife was a Tucker) and probably living nearby because he later married Frances Grogan a member of a family that twice again married into the Densmore clan. No information has surfaced on military service for Francis Monroe who would have reached 17 by 1864. Possibly he was at home throughout the war with younger brother John who would have only reached fifteen at the war’s end.
Tragic news reached Sarah and those still on the farm, just north of Atlanta, in the late summer of 1862. Both William W. and James F. were wounded in the battle of Second Manassas on August 28, 1862 with William dying from his wounds two days later. More detailed research may prove otherwise but it is likely they were with Stonewall Jackson and part of his fast-marching infantry. Heavy fighting took place against Jackson’s forces on the 28th while Lee’s army did not arrive until late that night.
Fletcher Pratt in his history entitled The Civil War noted that Jackson arrived on the 26th of August and his troops ate well for the first time in a while on captured Union rations. Pratt locates the battle of the 28th near a creek just north of Gainesville by the Warrenton turnpike. He describes a counterattack of Northern troops:
“…like a swarm of hornets. The first brigade Jackson put in was blown to bits; a savage battle raged for two hours over the possession of the end of a disused railroad embankment.”
We might wonder if Malachi was in the same battle as he was also serving with the 38th Georgia infantry. Young William W. Dinsmore (Densmore) was joined by over nine thousand Southern boys in death at Second Manassas.
Christmas on the Densmore farm in the red clay of the north Georgia foothills was not likely a happy one that December of 1862. Surely the pinch of war was now felt throughout the South. Sarah, widowed while still a young woman, was taking care of Samuel, four, Missouri Elizabeth, three, and little Henry even younger. Helping were Francis Monroe at 15 and John at 12. Sarah was the step-mother to the older children and we might wonder how much help came from David,30, or the daughters if they were even still near. The daughters, Polly, Amanda, and Melinda were all in their twenties. How close did the Grogans live? Amanda and Greenbury Grogan were married, we know David married Frances Grogan at some time in his life and Malachi married Mary Grogan but most likely after the war.
Sylvester, gone from the adjacent farm nearly five years had similar problems for his family. Many nights as he lay in his camp site with his saddle for his pillow he must have worried for his wife Sarah Caroline and their children. By 1862 Cynthia would have been fourteen, William Thomas probably was eleven, and Malinda was between eight and twelve. Other children may have been born to them in the early 1850’s of which we have no records. Four others were between six and infancy. Years later when he would yell loudly to greet his family as he drove his oxen in from the fields he well may have remembered those days apart from them without knowledge of their safety.
Families were without their men all over the country during the war and neighbors helped neighbors to survive. Possibly some of Sarah Caroline’s family, the Reavis’, were near in Alabama. Could this be the time the Warrens and the Densmores grew close in Alabama? There were the Grogans in Georgia maybe close and helpful. Sylvester thought enough of Greenbury Grogan to name a son after him. Not too far away in Georgia were the families of Uncle Samuel and Uncle Abner.
Sometime during that holiday season of 1862 more tragedy reached the farm in Georgia as news must have arrived of the accidental death of James F. which occurred four days before Christmas. We might assume he had recovered from his wounds at Manassas a few months earlier.
Malachi may have served under Jackson or Lee after the death of Jackson in 1863, as we know Malachi was wounded in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia at the battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1964. Without Jackson Lee relied on Jubal Early to control the Shenandoah that fall and sent Longstreet’s corps, marching day and night, to join Early on the 18th of October in 1864.
Pratt describes the 19th of October as beginning with an icy autumn fog clinging to the ground that disappeared by nine o’clock as the sun rose and it became hot. The starved Confederates who had not eaten well for months and even less on their mad march captured Union supplies that morning at Cedar Creek and were in the midst of a camp of plenty.
According to Pratt, Union forces returned.
“Sheridan led the charging infantry, crazed with enthusiasm…then the cavalry…Custer from one flank like a whirlwind; Merritt down the other. The Rebels could not stop them; they could stop nothing, they were fought out, done…flung back up the valley, broken forever, and the Shenandoah campaigns were ended.”
This was the day Malachi was wounded in the right leg, only to be wounded again five days later. He stayed in the hospital in Charlottesville until he was transferred, about the time of Lee’s surrender in April, to Lynchburg then released in June of 1865. It is apparent he was in many of the great battles of that war, probably with Jackson in valley, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. Young Malachi survived his wounds, married four times and lived to his mid-seventies, dying in Tifton, Georgia in 1919.
The Densmores suffered like all Southerners from the war and particularly its aftermath. The North controlled the government and through it the economy not just during reconstruction but for decades after. The South added to its problems by looking inward and to the past and still suffers somewhat in that manner. The stupidity of war came home to me in a sad moment while looking over a homesite north of Atlanta a few years ago when I traced the family that once lived there by their gravestones. I found first the mother and father who lived full lives during the last century. Then together were two sons: died Shiloh, April 1862 … another died somewhere else, 1864. What issue of that time was worth the lives of their two boys? Daniel Caster remains my favorite ancestor (one of my sons bears his name and the other my father’s) and I wish my state had listened to old Sam Houston just one more time.
The war ended in Alabama on May 4, 1865 when General Richard Taylor surrendered the remaining Southern troops to the Federals. Sylvester was in his late 30’s with eight children:
William T. 15
Naomi and Mary were born in the next year or two. We know he had now sold his Georgia land for the now worthless Confederate money and was not likely well off as Federal troops again took over Alabama’s government in March of 1867.
Sometime before the census was taken in 1870, Sylvester moved to the south part of Florence, just south of the Tennessee near the Muscle Shoals. In this area we find the towns of Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia clustered close together. Census records show the Densmores in South Florence, south of the Tennessee River. This is in Colbert County and Florence proper is in Lauderdale County, north of the river. Later, Florence no longer considered the land on the south side of the river a part of Florence. I believe the old farm is now a part of Sheffield if it is incorporated at all. Did Sylvester move his family there during the war for some reason? Was this the move that William Thomas remembers at nine rather than the one from Georgia? If this is so and W.T. was born in 1853, this move could have been as early as 1862, or if Will was born in 1855, this might have been right at the end of the war.
The battles of Shiloh and Corinth brought troops to the Muscle Shoals where a rail line from Tuscumbia ran westward to Corinth and Memphis. I think it is possible Sylvester saw this picturesque land where the Tennessee cuts through the Alabama hills with the many white rapids and just wanted to live there. It may have been more prosperous in Florence, if anywhere during reconstruction could have been. A new bridge over the Tennesses replaced the one destroyed by the Union during the war. This old narrow bridge plagued traffic until a new one just downstream replaced it in 1936. In 1884 a newspaper was established in Florence which may have been a healthier place to live intellectually as well as physically than the Applachian hills of Winston County. In 1873 Yellow Fever took its toll in south Alabama while cholera was found in Birmingham. In 1888 the first steel made from Alabama iron was produced in Birmingham which doubtless helped the economy but put more need on the coal mines north of the city. Few laws in Alabama protected the worker and the mines were death traps as well as producing lung ailments affecting the workers years later. Will Thomas’ son, Chess, was born in Coal Valley where Will lived a short time in the early nineties. This was a town built for coal mining and indicates Will moved there to work in the mines for a short time. Nathan Pearson said that the town rose then disappeared after some mining disasters.
In 1872 Sarah Caroline gave birth to her last child, Charlie; she was 45 and was to die five years later. She lived long enough to see her oldest boy, W. T., marry a neighboring girl, Lucy, the daughter of John Hall, the shoemaker from Tennessee. On Monday, December 20, 1876, they went to Tuscumbia and were likely married in a Methodist or a Nazarene church. Christmas followed on Saturday of that week. During the spring of their first year of marriage (1876) Alabama was besieged by rough weather and on Monday, April 3, a great storm wreaked havoc through the state. This also was the year Federal troops were withdrawn from the state.
Sarah Caroline died a year and one half after Will and Lucy married. Lucy was six weeks pregnant with her first child (George) but Sarah would not likely have known as this was the middle of the Victorian age and we might wonder how they did announce the pending arrival of a child in those days. Sarah Caroline saw some of her grandchildren however; young Malinda had married Major William Marion Warren, a widower, and a veteran of the Civil War. Malinda, who was probably called Maggie, was 17 or 18 when she married the Major who was in his early 40’s, an age difference not unusual at that time. Their first child was Elizabeth Jo Warren born November 2, 1872 in Sheffield. We might wonder if this was the first grandchild to Sarah Caroline and Sylvester as we do not know anything about their oldest child Cynthia. Cynthia was last listed in the 1860 census at twelve years of age, so she could have been married by 1870 if she survived the war and reconstruction.
The families of Major Warren Will Densmore5 and John Washington Hall lived next to each other on their farms in or near Florence, south of the Tennessee. The Densmores married into both families but I do not know of a marriage between the Halls and Warrens. Petway Hall, the son of John W. Hall, named a son Warren Hall but I think this was because of friendship rather than blood ties. It is interesting to trace the relationships between the Densmores and the Warrens during those years toward the end of the nineteenth century.
By his first marriage Major Warren had several children: Willie, Maggie, Fannie (who married Francis Marion Densmore), and Lillie. It is possible that Lillie may have been the Lavina that married a Markham and then became the second wife of Sylvester after Markham’s death. Fannie Goetcher of Sheffield, the granddaughter of Francis Marion Densmore and Fanny Warren Densmore tells us Sylvester’s second wife is this Lillie mentioned above. We can find no room in Sylvester’s life for more than two wives. Sylvester married Lavina Markham in 1878; she was known as “Vine”, no doubt this was short for Lavina. Could Lillie have been short for Lavina at one time in her life or could her name have been Lillie Lavina?
5 William Thomas was remembered as Will in Alabama and referred to as W. T. in Oklahoma it seems from conversations I have had with friends and descendants.
In 1880 we find these neighbors:
Major William Warren and Malinda Densmore Warren
with their children at that time:
Elizabeth Jo (Lizzie) 8
William W. (Jr.?) 6
George T. 4
(later were born Dave, Annie, Ruth, & Carrie)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Will and Lucy Hall Densmore
with their children at that time:
George Henry 2
William Rufus 4 mos.
Living is the same house were:
- Marion and Fannie Warren Densmore
with no children at that time.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
John W. (53) and Mary Lawing Hall (43)
with their children:
John B. 24 1856-1908
- Petway 21 1859-
Lundy 18 1862-1937
Mollie 14 1866-
Emily (Emmy) 10 1870-1965
Living close in the same general area were:
Sylvester (52) & Lavina (38)
with children from Syl. 1st. Marriage
step dau. Sarah Markham 18
step son Jessie Markham 11
their dau. Hattie 1
In 1880 where were Gincy, 18, or Caroline, 16? Both were likely married if they were still living but at the present time we have no information concerning them. Family information indicates there may have been a daughter, Lucy, who married Tom Simmons, a daughter Billie who married a Tidwell, and another daughter who married a Dr. Tom Willborn. These could well be second names of children we already have listed.
Also living close by in 1880 was Sylvester’s third son Green.
Greenbury (21) & Rebecca (20)
Sallie 2 mos.
Malinda Densmore Warren died, probably in the nineties, and the Major, who ran a general store in Colbert County, sent their children to be raised by his older daughter by his first marriage, Fannie, who had married Marion Densmore. The Major married a third time and died from poisoning by this wife. I remember my father telling me once that as a child he was afraid to ever marry because his wife might poison him. Could this story I stumbled across be the same instance that caused this fear?
We know Will Densmore and family lived in this area just south of the Tennessee in 1880 from the census and in the 1890’s from birth records; however, birth records from the family bible indicate they also lived fifty or more miles to the south in Double Springs and Coal Valley. Children were born to them there from 1877 to 1891. Will’s father, Sylvester, must have lived in both places also. At his death in 1909, Sylvester had a 200-acre farm in the rolling hills just west of Double Springs on present highway 25 where it crosses Clear Creek between Double Springs and Lynn. He could have owned this since 1857 when he first arrived in Alabama or possibly bought it later. It is likely this is where Will and Lucy lived when they were in Double Springs. The farm was and is heavily wooded with some pastures on rolling hills where they grew cotton and corn. Sylvester’s house was located on a hill a mile or so from Clear Creek which empties to the Sispy and Black Warrior rivers. He had a well to the front of the house and a spring was down the hill to the rear. Nathan Pearson remembers Sylvester cussing out a sheep that butted him once and recalls him as a large handsome man in spite of his age.
Sylvester and Lavina had three children, Hattie, born 1879, died at sixteen in 1895, John David, and Cleveland6. John David was born in 1881 and died in 1955. The last child of Sylvester was born on Friday following the Tuesday on which Grover Cleveland won the 1884 election. This was the first Democratic president elected since the Civil War and must have delighted Sylvester to the point he named his son after him. Cleveland lived until 1957 and many of his descendants live in the area, some still on the old farm. Sons, Green and Charlie, lived in the woods to the east of Sylvester’s house for years after Will and Lucy returned to Florence. It was through Cleveland’s granddaughter, Patsy, and her mother, Tren, that I was able to trace the location of the old farm and find the grave of Sylvester which had eluded me for so long, something I had never expected to find.
6 Sylvester’s last son’s full name was Thomas Cleveland while he named his first boy William Thomas. Neither was called Tom. We might wonder if there existed a Thomas as a friend or a relative that was special to Sylvester.
Nathan Pearson, who was nine at the time, was at their farm when Sylvester died. It was hot and the middle of August when they put the old man on the floor in the main room of the house where he laid in severe pain for some time. Nathan remembers this as an impressive thing in his youth and he thought the sons showed too little concern for their father. He does not remember Lavina doing anything for him. He had terrible stomach pains and his death certificate lists the cause of death as “old age – general wore out” and a contributing factor “tumor of the stomach”. Nathan must have been there on a Saturday as Sylvester is listed as dying 4:00 A.M. on Sunday August 15, 1909. Very little was filled out on the death certificate with most spaces answered, “don’t know”. His age was listed as “nearly ninety” but it is most likely he was 81.
The Densmores in Double Springs may have developed some of the characteristics of mountain people; they had a still hidden in the woods and an in-law hid out in the dense wilderness from the World War I draft. They evidently sold whiskey and drank a lot of it as well. Charlie, the youngest son of Sylvester and Sarah Caroline, became a hard-shell Baptist preacher and the Densmores donated some of their farm land for his church that sat on a hill just west of Clear Creek. Another building is there now but it still bears the name, Mt. Ebron Baptist Church. Charlie’s daughters are buried there. Nathan Pearson thought a lot of Charlie and I believe was his favorite of the Densmores he knew although he criticized him as not well organized. The other Densmores there may not have liked Charlie so well from what we can tell, as he may have hurled a lot of fire and brimstone. Many descendants of Sylvester and Vine live in Winston County and nearby at this writing, in particular those of Cleveland Densmore. It was these descendants, especially Tren Densmore and her daughter Patsy Densmore Little, who were so helpful in May of 1984 when we visited Sylvester’s old farm. Also, we owe a great deal to their research to the descendants of Adam Densmore through the line of his first son, James, in Alabama.
THE FAMILY OF SYLVESTER DENSMORE*
Sylvester 1828 – 1909
- Sarah Caroline Reavis 1827 – 1877
F Cynthia 1848
M William Thomas 1852 – 1912
F Malinda 1850? 1854?
M Francis Marion 1856
M Greenbury 1858 – 1940
F Cordella 1860
F Gincy 1862
F Caroline 1864
F Naomi 1865
F Mary 1866 – 1941
M Charles 1872
Some sources indicate:
F Lucy ?
F Billie ?
- Lavina (Vine) Markham (widow) 1841
F Hattie 1879 – 1895
M John David 1881 – 1955
M Thomas Cleveland 1884 – 1958
* As known at time of this writing (1984)